Before Tom Brady, the history of the New England Patriots was a whole lot of nothing. In their first four decades of existence, the Patriots rarely came close to a championship. Even their first-ever Super Bowl appearance in the 1985 season became a point of embarrassment after their 46-10 blowout loss to the Bears. From one player’s point of view, things may have gone better for the Patriots if they had a better option at quarterback than Tony Eason.
Tony Eason was not the New England Patriots’ first choice
Tony Eason was one of five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the famous 1983 NFL Draft, the same draft that produced both John Elway and Dan Marino. The New England Patriots selected Eason with the 15th overall pick. However, the Illinois quarterback was not the Pats’ first choice.
New England originally had their sights set on Elway, even though the Baltimore Colts had already taken him with the first pick. Elway had made it quite public that he would not play for the Colts under any circumstances, so the Patriots pursued a trade for Elway. Colts general manager Ernie Accorsi refused, as the two teams were in the same division.
You all know how this ends up. Elway ended up with the Denver Broncos, where he eventually won two Super Bowls. The Baltimore Colts packed up and moved out of Baltimore shortly after the 1983 season. Meanwhile, the Patriots would have to make do with Tony Eason.
Tony Eason takes charge in New England
It wasn’t until 1984 that Tony Eason took firm control of the New England Patriots’ offense. He took over from veteran quarterback Steve Grogan in the third week of that season and led a 23-point comeback victory to defeat the Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots would finish 9-7 that season and just barely miss the playoffs.
The following season, the tables turned on Eason. He and the Patriots struggled out of the gate, starting 2-3. Head coach Raymond Berry benched Eason for the 32-year-old Grogan, who led New England to six straight wins. Then, in week 12, Grogan broke his tibia, giving way to Eason again. The young quarterback won three of the next five, and the Patriots squeaked into the playoffs.
Eason and the Patriots then embarked on one of the most improbable playoff runs in NFL history, with three straight upset wins on the road to reach the Super Bowl. The last of those wins was the AFC Championship Game, where the Patriots stunned Dan Marino and the high-powered Miami Dolphins at the Orange Bowl. Earlier that season, those same Dolphins handed the mighty Chicago Bears their only loss of 1985.
The New England Patriots self-destruct in the Super Bowl
By the time of Super Bowl XX in New Orleans, the underdog Patriots were heavily overmatched. They grabbed a quick three-point lead thanks to an early Bears fumble, but it was a mirage.
Buddy Ryan’s famous “46” defense terrorized the young Eason early and often. In the first half, Eason failed to complete on any of his six attempts. To make matters worse, he was sacked three times and fumbled once. Before halftime, Coach Berry once again pulled Eason in favor of Grogan, who was playing on one good leg. The Bears would win 46-10.
To add insult to injury, their future Hall of Fame guard John Hannah retired after the game. Months later, in an interview with the Sporting News, he made public what he and his teammates really thought of their quarterback.
“Tony should wear a skirt instead of a uniform,” said Hannah, via the Los Angeles Times. “When he was hurt before we played the Bears in the Super Bowl, we were hoping he’d stay hurt so Steve could play.”
Eason’s career was never the same after Super Bowl XX. After 1986, he never started more than five games in a season again. By 1991, he was out of the NFL altogether.